14 September 2015

Happiness and Satisfaction

I have been thinking some recently on how we frame our wins and losses on the range, match or otherwise. Very often, we are dismissive of or disappointed in our results, but in a way I'm not sure is productive either for ourselves or for others.
"I had a terrible match; I only [won by a little, came in top 3/5/10]."
"I was all over the place today, couldn't do better than a [some size] group at [some distance]."
"I only came in behind [someone] because I was having gun trouble."
"I [won, came in top 3/5/10] only because I got lucky."
Most all of us have been guilty of saying something along these lines, myself included. But the more I hear them, regardless of who is speaking, the more they bother me. Here's a few reasons why:

  • They do not reflect ownership of your results. We are not only our best performances, but our worst. We are responsible for our bad days, our lack of equipment maintenance, our unpolished skills. And yet, we are also responsible for our blistering-fast draws, our perfect doubles, our "hero" runs. It wasn't luck or circumstance, good or bad; it was you. 
  • They do not respect your own improvement. Do you remember the first time you tried something on the range? In your first months or years, what was your worst match finish, biggest group size, slowest draw? What was your best? And today, how did you do? Probably better in some way or another. A little faster, a little tighter, a little more comfortable. I may not be happy in the middle of the pack now, but making it there used to be my fondest dream. By focusing on the failures, we forget how much we've won. And it wrecks our self-image. 
  • They do not respect the hard work of others. Our disappointment in what is likely an objectively good result is part of what makes it difficult for others to appreciate their own work and results. Someone may have shot the best match of their life - and ended up last place 'but not by that much!', and by saying that you've never shot so horribly in your entire life, and only came in second. What hope does that leave for someone trying to work their way up the ladder, and how does that celebrate what they've accomplished? (And why should you care? Because we're human. And because we contribute to our own ability to respect ourselves by building a culture where all wins are respected.)
There is value, of course, in reflecting on and even dissecting performance that does not meet your goals. We can't improve if we think we're already 'good enough'. And most of us are competitive by nature, so the fun is in the win or in a good-natured beat-down of our friends. So I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't talk about the negative, but we can consider how we frame what we've accomplished in a way that is more productive for ourselves and for those around us. You don't have to be satisfied to be happy with what you've done.

21 May 2015

A Very Quiet Bang

My friend, Tracy Hughes, issued a dry fire challenge this month to the members of the League City A Girl & A Gun Club chapter, where she is the facilitator (among the many hats she wears!). The challenge is simple: one full month of dry fire, six days a week. She's even provided a helpful graphic with each day's prescribed exercise. 

I'm really excited by Tracy's challenge because I know how well dry fire worked for me. Almost exactly two years ago, I celebrated breaking 50% on a USPSA classifier, meaning I shot it about half as well as the best person who's ever shot it. Earlier this month, I shot a classifier that's predicted to be within hundredths of a percentage point from 80%. How did I get here? I'm not a naturally talented shooter. I don't get to the range a whole lot to practice. But I do dry fire. 

Almost all of my significant gains can be directly traced to the dry fire routine that I started nearly 18 months ago with only one significant break this past winter when I actually didn't dry fire or shoot any guns at all. I've taken classes in the past, tried dry firing on and off, but this time was different. I'd just taken a class with Ben Stoeger who, true to form, told and showed me in great detail where precisely I was lacking as a shooter. The deconstruction came with a plan: dry fire, with a really honest focus on gun-handling technique and sight picture. Less than a year later, I took the class again and was pronounced improved (a little ;) ). I still have a long way to go towards my goals, but here's a few things that have helped me get to where I am now:

I dry fire or shoot (live fire practice or match) 5-7 days a week. That includes days we go out with friends or run errands after work, days when I'm stuck in the office late, days when I want nothing more than to crawl into bed right after dinner...I take a night off if I'm sick, if dry firing means I can't get my minimum amount of sleep to function, if I'm traveling, or occasionally if I'm busy packing for a match. And with that last one, I'll probably sneak in a few minutes of trigger control work anyway. 

I've settled on 30 minutes for my dry fire sessions. A half-hour straight through is a bit longer than is often recommended, but it's a chunk of time that works for me. Occasionally, I'll add an extra 15 minutes if I want to make sure I get in some time on a second gun, but 30 minutes is about as long as I can stay on task and not overwork my body. But even 5-10 minutes would do. To keep myself focused, I set a timer and use a dedicated space. My laptop and cell phone stay out - it's just me, my gun, my session timer, and my shot timer. 

I've built a plan that I follow if I don't have something specific I want to practice. That way, I never wonder what I'll do in dry fire on a specific day. My plan includes specific exercises, including par times and other goals. I want to leave my thinking for the actual work I'm doing in my dry fire studio, not for figuring out what that work will be. The plan also forces me to do things I'm bad at or haven't thought of before, not just blow through some feel-good drills.

I track and journal my dry fire, so that I can look back and tell you what I worked on last week or last month, and what challenges I had or details I noticed that helped me hit on a new or better way to do something. My trackers and journals also create accountability because they don't lie on how much I have or haven't done, and can be used when checking in with my training buddies. Plus flipping back to old entries can be really motivating when I see how far I've come. 

I participate in the occasional dry fire "throw down", where one of my training buddies will post a video of a dry fire drill performed under par time, and challenge the rest of us to match it...on video, of course. The drills can often focus on more obscure skills or push heavily into the limits of what's physically possible. It's fun and I learn a lot about the skills in the drill, since participating often includes lengthy discussion of the specific techniques that make it possible to perform the drill as described or refine performance even further.

I push my dry fire practice until I fail, then I figure out what went wrong and fix it. While perfect practice is important, so is going hard until the wheels fall off. Dry fire, in a safe environment, is where you can find out how fast you can go, whether or not an odd technique will work for you, or if your bright idea about how to do something really is so bright. And having that safe space means I can make a skill mine even if it didn't seem so hot the first thirty times. Three hundred. Whatever. It doesn't cost me anything but time to figure it out. 

One of my mentors and coaches describes dry fire as shooting with everything but the bang. Or rather, shooting live ammo is just dry fire with a little more noise and recoil. While you can't replace every bit of the shooting experience in dry fire, you can do most of what matters. All that work you do in dry fire? That's what's behind making your shooting beautiful.

26 March 2015

Hi There - A Few Personal Updates, and Some Thoughts On Range Safety

I'm sorry for the radio silence here. While I've been able to post shorter tidbits fairly regularly over on my Facebook page (where you really should go for more timely news and posts anyway) and even my new (relatively) Instagram, the longer and more thoughtful stuff that goes here has taken a backseat to some developments in my professional life both at my day job and as a shooter.

My day job career and my shooting career have paralleled each other in many ways, having started at roughly the same time. Major shifts in the way I've approached my relationship with guns can be almost directly tied to jumps I've made between jobs and roles. In 2015, my life in both worlds has become both more visible and more demanding. I won't bore you with the details of what I do in my office, but on the range, I'm happy and proud to a member of Team SIG SAUER and Team Lucas Oil. I'll also be proudly representing, in no particular order but alphabetical, Brilliant Backstraps, Full Bore Firearms, Grayguns, King Shooters Supply (Better Bullets), and PHLster...a list that is continuing to grow with my team affiliations. I'm really fortunate to be supported by these fine people and companies, and I'm looking forward to doing my sponsors proud. Each one of them puts out products that I'm personally impressed with and would choose to use regardless of sponsorship status. 

Enough about me. 

Most shooters who haven't been living under a rock recently have seen this video, showing a gross safety violation at a USPSA match. 

Clearly, I believe that since the video showed up on the internet at all in the first place, we are better off as a community not trying to delete all traces of it. Social media just doesn't work like that, and we have an excellent opportunity for education here on many fronts. Since we're all just playing experts here on the Internet, I'll need to go back to mememe for a moment and remind you of my qualifications. In addition to being an avid competitor, I'm also a match director, an IDPA Safety Officer, and a USPSA Range Officer

Having this video out in the wild doesn't just show a huge safety violation. It also shows that we are safety conscious. Witness the almost universal reaction of competitive shooters; I think we're more outraged at what went wrong than anybody in or out of the shooting community. Do you know what would be worse than this video? Not having this video posted because nobody thought it showed anything noteworthy.  The reason it's gone viral is because it is so out of the norm, and so far away from what we consider acceptable on the range. 

Range safety is an overlapping system so that if one element fails, the others continue to protect you and those around you. That's why we talk about safe direction AND finger off the trigger: if you put your booger finger on the bang switch when you shouldn't, but you're pointed downrange, all you'll do is give a good scare. Here, there was a failure of many best practices. There isn't one person at fault, and not everybody bears a greater or lesser degree of fault. So what should have been done?
  • Stage designers and match directors should carefully consider design and construction to maximize safety. I'm not raising a call to go to mesh walls, but you might think twice about that shoot house stage, or build your walls to start a few feet off the ground so that you an RO/SO can do an extra safety check by looking underneath them. 
  • Range/Safety Officers must remain diligent about visually clearing the entire range before starting a new competitor. The common, and smart, recommendation is to designate the RO/SO as the "last (wo)man off", who will conduct a visual sweep of all areas as they move to the start position. If a stage is very complex, there should be a plan to clear people off the range: who will walk from where, along what path? Who will keep watch to make sure nobody else goes uprange as the range is being cleared? What areas can be double-checked and how, before the next shooter makes ready? 
  • Range/Safety Officers must remain aware of the entire range as much as possible while a competitor is shooting. Focusing on the gun/muzzle does not mean locking on with tunnel vision that does not take into account what is beyond/behind the muzzle. The scorekeeper can take on some of this responsibility, and you can designate a squad member if there is a shortage on staff. It's not just for shooters downrange, but anything else that might affect range equipment or safety: a prop that has blown over or activated early because of wind, an animal wandering onto the range (you laugh, but it's happened on ours!), an errant brass-picker. 
  • Other squad members should stay on the ball when taping and resetting a stage, and drag their fellow squad-mates off the range with them. We've all been squadded with "That Guy" who can't resist lagging behind a few minutes for a few extra pieces of brass as long as they're downrange. We all should be reminding him to stop holding up the match and be keeping an eye out to make sure he isn't still downrange when the rest of us are done taping. 
  • If we're watching or video recording a shooter, we need to remember that we are all responsible for safety and for keeping an eye out for the same things the folks holding the timers and score sheets are. You're watching for your buddy's foot faults anyway so you can razz him after the match, so watch for what's on the range too. 
  • Some shooters like to visually clear the range as they head towards the start position. You might consider doing that too, at least in bays with compromised sight lines. Or you can ask the RO/SO running the timer if they've checked. And you should remember that while most all of us love that win, we should be paying enough attention that if we see or hear something odd, we can and should stop ourselves. Just like a suspected squib. 
And let's remember this: nobody got hurt. It was awful close - far closer than it ever should have been - but this incident didn't result in extra holes in anything outside of a cardboard target. Instead, we've been fortunate enough that it's just a community reset, a wake-up call that our best practices exist for a reason. Not a bad thing to have in our heads as we get into the full swing of competition season. Are you ready to get started? I am!

08 October 2014

Still Alive and Kicking!

To my five readers:

I continue to dry fire religiously, and shoot tons of matches. 3-Gun and USPSA have taken over my schedule this summer and fall. Please check out my Facebook page, where I post my less rambly thoughts, and my YouTube channel, where I post match videos. Very soon, I hope to be announcing some very exciting news, and it will break first on Facebook.

See you on the range!

18 June 2014


If you're a competitive shooter who hasn't been living under a social media rock, you've probably heard at least rumor of a USPSA Range Officer who is being called out for allegedly adding to and subtracting from stage times shown on shot timers at major matches. If you're following the various Facebook discussions, you'll likely know that I've contributed my two cents. Given the many electrons that have given part of their life to the debate, I don't have any more to add on that particular scandal (at least not here), but it has made me think about integrity on the range generally.

As with any sport, there are a lot of ways to gain an unfair advantage if you're shooting for score, whether from the competitor side or the range/safety officer side. The shot timer can be manipulated by tapping it after the last shot or allowing it to pick up the slide dropping during the Unload and Show Clear, or by protecting its microphone from picking up the last shot or two. Improbable perfect doubles can be argued and granted. An inaccurate score can be written down or entered, or modified after the fact. The fact that ammunition is under the power factor floor can be hidden. In most cases, these types of advantages result from unintentional - or at least unmalicious - mistakes. 

We attempt to build safeguards against unfair advantages into our rules and best practices. Having the range/safety officer running the shooter show the timer to the scoring official helps, as does checking the shot count on the timer or the split between the last two shots. IPSC/USPSA and some of the more precision-oriented sports use scoring overlays to determine whether a shot is a double or if it touches/breaks the scoring line and thus receives the next higher point value. We often keep backup carbon copies of scores at major matches, or ask the shooter to approve what is entered into an electronic scoring system (and perhaps go so far as to audit for later changes). Chronographs are used to test competitor ammunition at major matches. 

The safeguards we've built don't always work. Ultimately, they do best in preventing the unintentional slips but they aren't very effective against concerted efforts to break the rules. That's where all of us, as match officials and competitors, need to step up. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here when I say, "don't be a cheater". I think we're all pretty clear on the sorts of things that are absolutely over the line, like changing scores or using "special" rounds at the chrono stage. On gray areas like whether or not a very close shot touched/broke a scoring line, we should be fair when we apply principles like making doubtful calls to the benefit of the shooter - if you would do it for your buddies, you should do it for a stranger, and vice versa. Similarly, if we think we've found a better way inside the rules, we should stay within the realm of good sportsmanship. More, we need to speak out if we see bad calls and shady behavior. I don't just mean posting (anonymously or not) on the Internet, though that's certainly been effective in the current scandal both for bringing this particular issue to light and for raising awareness of simple ways to safeguard against it, but also in raising the issue to the range master or match director, and if necessary, further up the chain to section/area coordinators and so on to hopefully nip the problem in the bud. As one of my friends describes it, failing to give a procedural to one shooter who rightfully should have received one has the net result of giving a procedural to every other shooter who followed stage procedure. Don't do that to your fellow shooters.

I'm not saying we go on witch hunts or accuse anyone who gains an advantage of "gaming" or "cheating", but turning a blind eye to bad behavior perpetuates the flat out cheating we don't want on the range. It's important to keep the game, whichever one(s) you shoot, fair so that we can compete on as level of a playing field as possible wherever and with whoever we shoot, all within the boundaries of the rules we go by. Classifications and wins derive much of their value from knowing that everyone went up against the same problem and you solved it better, whether that means you shot it faster or you saw a way to exploit a stage design. If we all truly do our best to ensure that everyone the same experience coming in, we'll all have a more enjoyable match...and we really will know who was the better shooter (or at least better at coming up with brilliant stage breakdowns or at reading the stage brief closely!). 

By the way - those of you who don't compete or who don't care about your scores? You don't get a free pass either. When's the last time you spoke up about unsafe practices you've witnessed on the range? Told someone your measured opinion about an ineffective or unsafe piece of gear? Gave an honest assessment of a person's skills? Gently warned a friend that a training opportunity they're excited about might not be a good idea? Fair isn't just for the competition range; it's also for training for competency or self-defense. 

We play with dangerous toys and that requires a high level of personal responsibility so that it remains safe, fun, and fair. Be a person that you would trust, and support integrity in those who surround you. That's beautiful. 

23 May 2014

Mille Viae

I recently spent several days with Kathy Jackson while she was in town to teach a few classes. While Kathy is a defensive shooting instructor and scholar and I have been focusing my time and mental energy on almost purely competitive shooting, we still find plenty of common ground. My heart is in shooting on a timer, but keeping my hand in with other shooting disciplines exposes me to broader thinking about what works and doesn't work behind the trigger. That's why I'll occasionally spend time on the line with concealed carry classes, show up at CMP-style matches and Project Appleseed, and even pick up a bow and arrow.

As an instructor, I've always known that it's helpful to be able to articulate and demonstrate different methods of accomplishing the same end even if I had a preference on which way was "best". If nothing else, knowing all of the other methods and their rationales help me to be able to tell someone why my way was a good way, without falling prey to one of a multitude of logical fallacies. As a student, it's as or more important to understand the many paths to the same goal of making accurate hits on target at speed. But I don't just blindly toss tools into my toolbox by indiscriminately adopting every new technique to cross my path, I don't rely on self-experimentation with all of those different techniques presented to me over time to try to puzzle out which one works "best", and I don't simply latch on to one or two techniques because some guy told me it was a good idea.

Instead, I insist on learning the "why" of each technique so that I can reject completely unsuitable techniques out of hand because they don't have reasonable underlying logic and theory, as well as evaluate the more plausible techniques more objectively and completely. This strategy lets me fill my toolbox with new, usable tools with uses I can specifically articulate and contextualize into the exact shooting problem I am trying to solve. In other words, I don't try to figure out the "best" way of doing anything, or try to arrive at the "best" overall technique for me. I find my favorite hammer that does 80% of what I need, then I keep some screwdrivers and wrenches my back pocket for the edge cases, and I'm able to pick the right tool quickly because I've already thought through when and why each one would make the most sense.

For instance, one of the major differences between what Kathy teaches and what I do and teach revolves around grip. Kathy defaults to a "thumbs locked down" grip; I'm very much a "thumbs forward" kind of woman. Unsurprisingly, it's been a topic of much discussion when we've gotten together. While I still strongly believe in "thumbs forward" for my own shooting, I've softened my views towards "thumbs locked down" now that I see its uses for shooting revolvers, for fitting hands to too-small guns (and occasionally too-large guns), for firearms retention, and other reasons. In fact, my husband's been shooting "thumbs locked down" for the last year or so, as he's been rocking a Chiappa Rhino, which can cause injuries with "thumbs forward" grips. Avoiding burns seems like a good reason to pick a new tool out of the toolbox! And while I still have a lot of trouble getting into a "thumbs locked down" grip because of the immense time I've put into "thumbs forward", you can now find me occasionally using a curled thumb for strong hand shooting with otherwise more difficult-to-control pistols. Plus it was the perfect grip to show one of my students with teeny hands who was having trouble hanging on to any handgun we tried. Is it the best overall tool for me? Nope. Not at all. But it is handy to have around? Yup. Absolutely.

Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam. A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome. One way might be better for you today, but having a map for many ways means it will be a lot harder for you to get lost. And a full toolbox is a lot more beautiful than a lonely hammer rattling around a big, empty box...as long as you keep the manuals around so that you know how to best use every tool you have available.

28 March 2014

You've Decided To Shoot A Match - Now What?

Last weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of being part of the instructor staff for A Girl and A Gun Women's Shooting League's Second Annual Training Conference. While I spend a good deal of my time at the Conference on the range, one of the classes I was most excited about teaching didn't directly involve shooting at all. It's about an important topic, and one that got a lot of interest both from new and experienced competitive shooters, so I wanted to share it with all of you who couldn't come or who didn't take all of the notes you wanted to. What was it? Match etiquette. What to expect and how to behave once you've rolled up as a new shooter in a big crowd of people who all seem to know where to go and what to do. This is going to be a monster post, but I think you'll find it valuable. Before we dive in, I'd like to thank the many people across a variety of shooting disciplines who read my early class notes and outlines and contributed their own two cents, which I've tried to distill into what I hope is a complete guide to the "social scripts" of competitive shooting.

Good match citizenship isn't just a matter of politeness to smooth the way, though that's a big part of it; it's a safety issue too. Both aspects will make everyone's day more enjoyable and rest assured - your efforts will be noticed! In most cases, memories of your scores will disappear long before memories of your attitude. If you leave a positive impression as a thoughtful and considerate shooter, you’ll find a friendlier and more helpful community waiting for you when you go back.

Before the Match
As I've said before, safety is one of the core concepts of what we do on the range. You must know and be able to apply gun safety rules before you shoot a match, where your ability to maintain muzzle and finger discipline in particular will be tested in a more dynamic and stressful environment than many shooters have experienced elsewhere. Even those of us who have been to a lot of matches can find new safety challenges at a new club, major event, or different sport where a safe direction might be different than our home range, there might be more/different guns in play, and just more pressure than a local club match among friends. An exercise I give many shooters interested in going to their first match is to simply pick a safe spot or direction in their house, have them point a finger gun at it, then practice moving around while keeping their finger pointed there. It's a great way to safely figure out how to turn up-range and other moves you can't do at most ranges.

Another safety note: almost all competitive shooting events are held on cold ranges. Generally, you will not be permitted to have a loaded firearm except under direct supervision of match staff (see below on how to handle your carry gun). Chamber empty and magazine out should be your default state, with guns in a holster or bag, safely stored on a rack or table, and possibly with a chamber flag in place. How will you know what will be required? Now, before the match, is the time to find out.

You don't need to be an expert before you show up, but it's a good idea to spend a bit of time before your first match in any sport getting familiar with the basic rules and equipment requirements. You will almost certainly be given a brief introduction at the match to the rules that will matter for your first time out and many match directors will allow a new shooter to use slightly non-conforming equipment, but you probably don't want your first match to be the first time you're exposed to these concepts. At this point, the details are relatively unimportant as long as you know things like what kind of holster is acceptable, how many magazines/speed loaders/moon clips you need, and a general idea of what your targets will look like. Check your club's website! Ours includes much of this information. Failing that, try contacting the match director, although I'd recommend not waiting until the very last minute both to give him or her time to respond and for you to pick up any gear you might need.

You might also contact the match director in advance or when you arrive at the range if you have a physical limitation or health issue that might affect you during the day. When we design and review stages before a match we run, we will take into account known disabilities when possible by, for instance, eliminating a kneeling position and replacing it with a chair or at least have a plan for an alternate way to approach a stage (though they may come with a minor scoring penalty). You should also notify the match director, your range/safety officer, or a trusted friend who will be with you if you have a medical condition like a bee allergy or diabetes, so you can be treated appropriately if necessary.

Arrive early! It will give you time to get situated by meeting a few people, locating important areas like the bathrooms, and walking through stages and getting some personalized introductions helping with set up. Set up only requires willing hands. I find it very helpful to have someone assist with even the simplest things like stapling targets I'm holding up or carrying some light-weight props and equipment to where they need to be...and I always remember to give a few extra hints to new shooters who pitch in to make sure they'll have a match to shoot. My more experienced shooters who show up early will often take a newbie under their wing for the match, especially if they see the newbie at set up.

If you normally carry a defensive firearm, you'll need to deal with it appropriately when you have arrived. Appropriate does not mean trying to surreptitiously unholster and unload your carry gun in the parking lot. It means finding the match director or a range/safety officer immediately and asking them what the procedure is at their range. Most will take you to a handy berm and ask you to unload and show clear under supervision, then stow your carry gun appropriately (even if it's just in your holster if you plan to shoot the match with it). In some cases, I suggest that you may find it easier not to carry to your first match so you don't need to worry about it. As with all carry-related decisions, you need to decide what's right for you.

With the rest of your gear, I recommend packing your gun in a separate case from everything else so that you can put on your belt, holster, ammo carrier pouches, etc and fill your magazines/speed loaders/moon clips whenever you are ready, because handling your gun will almost certainly not be permitted outside of the designated safe areas which are generally limited in size and won't allow you to handle ammunition and/or magazines. Safe areas or safe tables are almost always designated by an easy-to-find sign but if not, you can ask anyone who looks even just a little less lost that you are. They're places where you can handle your firearm without supervision to get it in or out of its bag, practice a few quick draws, or perform minor maintenance, all while keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. To prevent mistakes, ammunition is never allowed at a safe table and magazines may not be allowed either. A good practice is just to bring your gun's case with you to the safe table. Since space is limited, be considerate of your fellow shooters and don't spread your gear out all over or spend lots of time here getting ready because you'll need to register.

If you haven't pre-registered for the match, just a few words of advice for registration: follow directions and write neatly. Match staff will also appreciate it if you bring exact change and let them know that you're a new shooter or if you have any squadding requests. Your squad is the group of people you'll spend all day with and while it's a great opportunity to meet new people, it's also nice not to be separated from the friend you brought for moral support or who is your ride home. Keep in mind, however, that squad requests are just that - requests. You may be shuffled around to a different squad for purposes of match balance and flow. Either way, once squads are called, pay attention to who you'll be with and where to go so that you can be in the right place once the match starts.

Shooting the Match
You've made it! This is the big event! Now what? Start by paying attention to the match and stage briefings, which will give you info specific to the club and to each course of fire. A quick bit of background vocabulary for very new competitive shooters: the entire event is a match, and each separate bit of shooting is a stage. Stage briefings in particular are a good time to ask your squad's range/safety officer questions for that particular stage that you might not have been clear on, such as whether you can make up shots by firing extra rounds at a target than the number of hits required for scoring purposes or when and where you can reload your firearm during the stage. The stage briefing is also normally when the squad's shooting order is called.

It's important to know shooting order because it's the key to moving a match along at a smooth pace so you can go home at a reasonable time. A squad will normally shoot in the same order for every stage of a match except that the first shooter on one stage rotates to the bottom of the stack for the next stage. As a new shooter, you should be able to ask to not be one of the first up at any point during the match. As an experienced shooter, I've been known to do the same...just with a bit less success than a new guy or gal (but it's always worth asking!). While you'll hear shooting order early in the match or stage, you should also hear it after each shooter is called to the line, using the "on deck/in the hole" system. It'll sound a little like this: "Annette is the shooter, Mark is on deck, and Rusty Jamz is in the hole!" That means that I better be at the start position and ready to go. Meanwhile, Mark should be confirming that his gear is in order and hanging out ready to step into the start position. Rusty should be making any last-minute adjustments to his gear and finishing up any mental preparation or review he wants to do before he shoots. As soon as I'm done shooting and the range/safety officer calls the range safe, Mark should go to the start position and get ready up to the point before his gun leaves his holster to load up for the stage, Rusty should get into the on deck position, and the next shooter in the hole should do his or her thing. While Mark gets ready and shoots the stage, I'll immediately prep for the next stage by topping off my magazines, going to the safe table if maintenance is necessary, and grabbing a drink of water or a snack. Then I'll join the rest of my squad to watch the shooters and help out with other parts of running the match.

While chatting with your squad can be one of the high points of the day, it's nice to keep the volume down a bit. Electronic/active hearing protection can pick up a lot of conversations that you might not intend to be overheard, especially by someone who is trying to focus on the stage they are shooting right then. That's one of the reasons I often just turn my electronic muffs off when I'm on deck. Chatting can also turn into a low point if you let well-meaning advice become a distraction. Competitive shooting is generally a pretty friendly sport and shooters often want to help out 'the new guy or gal' with a few tips given with the very best intentions. As the recipient of that advice, it can be both confusing and distressing to hear that you've been doing it all wrong, and you should be focusing on safely completing the match rather than changing up technique midstream. Being suckered into arguments about the "right" way is unproductive and can alienate people offering valuable guidance. Instead, I suggest responding by saying things like “Thanks”, “I’ll try that out at my next practice”, or “Let’s talk about that after the match; I’d like to concentrate on my shooting right now”. Then actually do think about what was offered to you - it might make a positive difference next time you're at the range! And when you find yourself in a position to offer a few tidbits yourself, don't forget what it's like to be that new shooter bombarded with hints and wait for the right moment to offer help without being pushy.

When you are the shooter on the line, the range/safety officer will tell you exactly what you need to do to "load and make ready". He or she will walk you through the steps of loading and holstering or positioning your firearm, with as little or as much detail as you need. Don't feel like you need to rush this process or anticipate the commands; you won't get any bonus points for being fast and you won't get any penalties for taking a reasonable amount of time. At this point, you'll be asked if you are ready. You can say no. You can ask any last-minute questions. Even though it's not required, I might use this opportunity to tell the range/safety officer if I'm planning on moving or turning a specific direction or shooting the stage in an unusual order, so that he or she can plan ahead on where to be while I'm shooting. You can say yes or just nod your head. I like to keep my hand on my pistol's grip while I finish my last quick mental rehearsal, then move my hands to their starting position once I'm ready. Then it's just waiting for the start beep and finally - shooting!

When it appears you have finished shooting a stage, the range/safety officer will ask if you are finished and if so, they will walk you through the steps of the "unload and show clear" (or other steps depending on stage and match flow). If you are standing, start by squaring yourself to the rear backstop, then follow the commands like you did when you went through the load and make ready. If you end the stage in some other position, you may be directed to unload and show clear before standing and holstering and/or to place your gun on the ground or a table before standing and completing the unload and show clear process. Unload and show clear isn't on the clock, so you can and should take your time, especially since you, as the shooter, are ultimately responsible for making sure that your firearm is completely unloaded before you step off the line. When unloading, you can let your magazine drop to the ground if you aren't comfortable catching it and hanging on to it or stowing it in a pocket while you continue. If you do so, leave it on the ground until after your gun is holstered. When ejecting the live round out of your gun's chamber, let it fall out naturally and, like a magazine, leave it on the ground to be picked up later. If you're watching someone else unload, it's nice to note where it fell so they can find it later! Don't try to "flip" the round out to catch it because this can lead to losing control over muzzle direction. Similarly, don't try to "roll" the round into your hand, risking the possibility of an out-of-battery detonation if the extractor hits the primer - rare, but potentially very damaging. Gravity is a neat thing; use it. Once you have emptied your gun, you will need to show the range/safety officer that your gun is clear. Locking the slide back is usually optional but if you don't, you'll need to be prepared to hold it open long enough for someone to easily see that your chamber is empty. Either way, you are solely responsible for confirming that you are completely unloaded.

During all of the time you aren't shooting, on deck, in the hole, or dealing with your gear after you have just shot, you should be helping with the small tasks necessary for a match to run. My mantra is that everybody works every match. Why? Because matches are volunteer efforts; your fees very likely do not go to the pockets of any individual as a result of their work managing or otherwise working at the match. As a new shooter, you can help with the simple but necessary tasks of taping/pasting and resetting a stage after each shooter is finished, the range has been called safe, and the targets have been scored. If you can't or don't know how to reset a piece of steel or a moving target, ask a squadmate or move on to something you can do so that somebody else can handle the heavier, more complicated things. Taping/pasting is only a matter of putting a sticker or piece of tape over the holes in a cardboard or paper target. I call it arts and crafts time, and it's about as difficult as any kindergarten art project. Work efficiently and don't linger downrange so that the squad can get back to shooting that much sooner. If it just so happens that you're shooting a sport that allows individual walk-throughs, this is a great time to squeeze one in so long as you get taping/pasting and reset done and don't interfere with getting the next person shooting.

Another task a newer shooter might be asked to help with is scoring. Don't be intimidated - it's often a straightforward chore and a great way to learn some of the nuances of your new sport. The person asking you to help out with scores can tell you where to write down times, points, and penalties, and the range/safety officer responsible for the squad or stage will tell you what to write down. Just enter it neatly into the proper spots and repeat back what you are entering so that the range/safety officer can be sure that you have the right numbers. Unless you are specifically directed or permitted to pick up brass, taping/pasting and reset time is not a good time to do so. Keep in mind that while most ranges have their own brass policies, you should plan on a match being a "lost brass" event until at least the match is completely over and everything put away, in which case you should plan on replacing your own brass and not taking someone else's clearly marked (or oddball caliber) brass.

Taking video or photos of a shooter isn't part of working a match, but you'll see it quite a bit if range rules allow it. If you'd like to get some movies or pictures of another shooter, ask before your whip out your phone or camera and don't forge ahead if they say they'd rather not be in your camera frame. If a shooter says yes, it would be appreciated if you shared your footage with him or her privately (great way to get contact info for your new friends!) and to share links if posting anything publicly, assuming he or she doesn't have a problem with you sharing with other people. Remember that many shooters aren't comfortable with non-gun-friendly friends, family or coworkers finding out about their hobbies or may be subject to job-related restrictions on publicity. Some shooters also prefer to edit and post their own footage to keep it all in one place. Either way, if you are taking videos or photos, make sure you don't interfere with match flow or safety by staying up range, not getting in the way of range/safety officers, and remembering to tape/paste and reset. And don't forget, if you want a few cool pictures or videos of yourself, feel free to ask your squad mates. They'll be happy to help out as long as they aren't getting ready to shoot, just as you should be if you are asked.

After the Match
Once everyone has finished shooting, the match isn't quite over yet. Because everyone works every match, everyone should be involved in tear down: putting away all of the equipment used in the match. Tear down tasks range from pulling targets off the sticks or backers they are mounted to, disassembling props, and neatly piling up target stands in the appropriate areas, to delivering or putting away score sheets and timers, taking shot-up targets to the trash, and collecting stakes and other accessories used to hold props together or make activated targets work. While some heavy lifting is always required, you don't need to be Superman or Wonder Woman because those lighter-weight things need to be done too. Either way, stash a pair of work gloves in your range bag and you'll look like a hero and be remembered for being prepared and eager to do more than participate in the entertainment portion of the day. And while you're tearing down, don't forget to say thank you to the match directors, staff, and your squadmates.

Finally, results. You probably will want to know how you did now that you've been through all of the work, stress, and fun of the match itself. Normally, scores are posted or emailed within a few days to a week after a match. Ask your squadmates when and where you can expect to find them. Remember that getting these up is also a volunteer job, so pestering the match director about when you'll get scores or issues you have with scores is generally not a good idea. Polite questions are always acceptable, though, so don't feel like you have to stay silent if scores seem to be taking a long time to become available or if you're confused by the results. It might be something as simple as your email address not being in the right list or a typo.

Here's a parting secret: you don't have to care about your scores, and chances are extremely good nobody else cares about them. What we, as match staff and more experienced shooters, care about much more is that you are safe, that you had fun, and that you participated in all of the match including the grunt work. When we see that, you're much more likely to get all of the help you want in getting your shooting to the level you're looking for, because you're who we especially want to see back on the range. Because beauty isn't just perfect doubles and blazing fast Bill Drills...it's also many hands making light work and a smoothly and efficiently run match that everyone can enjoy.